Matt Mitchell, a lengthy 6-foot-6 wing from San Diego State, projects as one of the best potential sleepers in the 2021 NBA draft.
Mitchell won the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year behind 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 2020-21. He had the second-best steal percentage in the conference and he earned MWC First-Team All-Defense consideration. Mitchell was honored as the MWC Tournament MVP and he helped his squad make an appearance in March Madness.
The NBA prospect recently caught up with HoopsHype to discuss where he fits in this draft class, what he learned at San Diego State and plenty more.
Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.
How do you reflect on your time at San Diego State?
Top 5 career scorers in San Diego State’s Division I history:
1.) Brandon Heath (2,189 points)
2.) Michael Cage (1,846)
3.) Anthony Watson (1,735)
4.) Chase Tapley (1,526)
5.) Matt Mitchell (1,471) pic.twitter.com/7AS0K6N5X9
— Jon Schaeffer (@jonschaeffer) March 21, 2021
Matt Mitchell: I’d say I had a pretty good college career. It was very unique in that I de-committed from Cal State Fullerton and made a last-minute decision to go to San Diego State over Utah. But I went there because of the family environment. It was also close to my actual family and they were able to go to every home game they could be at except for the ones restricted by COVID-19. My first couple of seasons were a little bit up and down. We had a lot of talent on the team but couldn’t quite get it together. Junior year was when everything really took off for us. I was able to play with guys like Malachi Flynn and Jordan Schakel. The coaching staff really did a great job of recruiting a lot of guys who wanted to win and do anything and everything they could to propel their team forward. We all bought into our system and we bought into each other. I was also able to get a hold on my weight. I gained some consistency because I got on a great diet.
What were the biggest factors in your body transformation?
MM: For me, it was getting a hold on college and getting settled in mentally. I was able to get on a diet and educate myself on the right food to eat and what to put in my body as well as going at it every day in the workouts. I have a very high work ethic. So that and having gym access was all that a guy like me needed. Now that I’m done with school, I’m fully focused on basketball. My diet is a part of basketball. It is a part of my everyday life. I’ve cut out a lot of carbs. I eat a lot of vegetables and low to no protein meats. I am preparing meals. I make my own meals during the week. I get the ingredients and bring them home and prepare for what I need.
What is your plea to NBA draft teams considering adding you to their roster?
The Matt Mitchell enjoyer has logged on pic.twitter.com/dexjkUsCVz
— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) June 14, 2020
MM: I am the versatile guy that they need on the court that is going to play effective minutes, shape up the game and change the course of the game and the flow of the way the game is going. I can get rebounds, get steals, make the right play, dive on the ball. I’m that junkyard dog that gets it done, no matter what it is, I’m going out there to get it done. It’s not always about scoring for me. It’s not always about making a big play. It’s about making that next pass. It’s about making that smart pass. It’s about making the corner three-pointer. It’s about making the right play to the big. It’s about making the right cut at the right time. It’s about versatility and it’s about IQ. I’m always going to give 100 percent.
Where does that junkyard mentality come from for you?
MM: I’ve always had it. Growing up, my older sister was a bit of a tomboy. She beat a lot of the guys that she knew. She prepared me, very well, for the physicality of basketball and having to fight down there. I also always played up on AAU teams. I was used to being the younger guy and the guy that had to fight for space and fight for respect. I had to fight for every inch that I gained. I’m no stranger to it. It’s in my DNA to fight. It’s in my DNA to be an underdog, no matter who is in front of me.
Walk me through the evolution of your pull-up jumper, which is arguably your best skill.
Catching up on college guys this weekend. Here’s San Diego State’s Matt Mitchell shot-faking a guy into a full 180. 35 points last night for the senior wing. pic.twitter.com/UIZe0X1b8W
— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) December 19, 2020
MM: Oh, man! I think it’s always been in my game. I grew up wanting to put the ball on the ground and be that kind of player. Scoring is in my DNA. That’s just what it is. Coming into high school and then going into college, I had to polish that and make it really crisp because scoring off the bounce is important in the NBA. It’s important to hit the one-two dribble pull-up when they run you off of the three.
When the big is coming up to block your shot, it’s important to have that pop in your jumper. I really think that the midrange area is kind of special and kind of forgotten. I shoot the ball from the three just as well as I do when I put it on the ground. Sometimes I do look to put the ball on the ground when the right shot is to let it go off the catch so that can be fixed with a lot of repetition and a lot of in-game workout actions where I am getting that look and get to a point where I am able to feel more comfortable letting that shot go.
What is your comfort running ball screens in the pick and roll?
MM: Going into college, I was more hesitant coming off the pick and roll, coming off the screen and making reads. During my junior year and senior year, however, I was able to slow the game down and slow it down for myself and see the floor and see my options. Going into the league, I see myself getting even more comfortable when playing with NBA bigs and more physical NBA guards. I have the physicality to keep my guy on my hip or on my back. I also have the passing ability to make a play for my big or any other of my teammates.
On the court in the NBA today, I’m a mismatch. I can have a big or a smaller guard on me and if the guy is my size, I can be more physical than they are or I have that game off the bounce that can get it done. In the NBA, I would thrive at creating mismatches and being versatile on the floor.
For someone who mostly shoots jumpers, how do you draw so much contact?
Matt Mitchell is a tank pic.twitter.com/xFGwcAIj7y
— Will Morris (@w_a_morris) June 6, 2020
MM: Creating fouls is second nature to me because I am so physical. I watch my footwork and put in the work to know Kobe’s footwork, MJ’s footwork, LeBron’s footwork. I am able to create an edge over my defenders because I am so physical. I’m able to put them in a bad spot and I can then just wait for the defense to make a mistake. I like to watch James Harden and I have learned his antics throughout the game, especially how he faces defenders off the bounce. It’s all about getting easy points.
My patience, over the course of my career, went to the next level because I was drawing a lot of offensive fouls. I was just playing too much bully ball. It was a lot of work coming off two feet to come out of that. But getting free throws rather than running guys over was a positive for me.
What was your role in SDSU’s defense, which ranked Top 25 in the nation last season?
Matt Mitchell with the steal before kindly directing Derrick Alston to the weight room pic.twitter.com/2GhSDhRPsU
— Jake Rosen (@JakeInThePaint) May 24, 2020
MM: I’ve always taken pride in being a defensive guy, guarding the better players on the other team. That has always given me an edge. I put myself in a position where I don’t hack at guys. That just took patience to get comfort, knowing when to reach and dig your hand in there and went to bump a guy off his course. That was a fine line that I had to walk at first but during my later two years, I was able to get my hand on the ball to get steals and be aggressive. I’ve been able to get steals, watching guys like Kawhi Leonard and Tony Snell that were two-way guys when they were young. They’re so active. My physicality and my length alows me to guard guys who are a bit bigger.
You mostly played at the four but you played between the three and five. What position makes you most comfortable?
MM: I was most comfortable at the three but I played the two when I was younger back in high school. But in college, when I was needed in certain positions, that is what I did. Moving into the league, I think the three will be my sweet spot to find time on the floor and to be effective when I am out there. I can make into the two with time because I know I am able to guard an NBA two and one because of the way that I am able to move my feet and battle.
What have you done since the season ended?
MM: I’ve been working out basically back home at my old high school, Roosevelt High School, with my hometown trainer and former coach from my sophomore year. I will be training with Jordan Lawley in Irvine, California. I just finished up school last Friday. Now, all focus is going to be on hoops. My degree was in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in sociology and history as well as recreation and tourism management.
Off the floor, what kind of guy will an NBA team get in Matt Mitchell?
MM: They will get a marketable guy. They’ll get a guy who is a family man. I am very relaxed and very laid back. I’m a people person. I’m looking to put in the work and win games. But for me, it’s all about basketball and my dog. I have a black lab and pitbull mix. She is almost three years old. She is full of energy. I’m laid back and relaxed and my dog is the complete opposite. She loves energy, she loves fun, she runs around the house 24/7. She keeps me up, she keeps me active, running around with her. She’s always full of life. For me, it’s about family, basketball and my dog.
What is your biggest motivation to make the NBA?
MM: My dad has been the driver of my entire basketball career. He played basketball at Cerritos in California and then at Cal Poly. He had a small window of opportunity and he missed out on it. Now that I am here in the same position he was in and I have the opportunity to have one foot in that door with a chance to stick that second one in there, I’m going to create something for myself. I’m going to let my dad see me in the NBA and make that next jump that he’s been pushing behind me since I was four years old and I first picked up a basketball when I was first able to walk and talk and be on a court. That’s where I’ve been the whole time and I’ve never wanted to leave. That is going to be special for me.